Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Review

So I finally upgraded to Mountain Lion. I completely skipped over Lion because I didn’t like how Apple was iOS-ifying everything and had just stayed on Snow Leopard until a few days ago. Personally, I think Snow Leopard was the best operating system ever released. It was super stable and had everything you could ask of an operating system. I never really liked Leopard because it never worked 100% stable for me (though it did bring Time Machine and QuickLook, both of which are features I use every day). Tiger was great too back in the days, but if you look at it now, the GUI looks totally inconsistent.

Now that Apple is discontinuing security updates for Snow Leopard and an increasing number of apps requires Lion or newer, I had not much of a choice but upgrade.

This isn’t a full review of Mountain Lion. If you want to read one, check out John Siracusa’s epic review at Ars Technica. So far my impressions are:

Stability and speed: Mountain Lion is just as stable as Snow Leopard. It is also noticeably more responsive than Snow Leopard. I don’t think this has anything to do with actual speed, but more of a psychological thing: Safari now renders progressively, and many apps already let you interact with them while they’re still starting up (previously they would have been frozen for another second or two while they finished their startup prcedure).

iOS-ification: Launchpad is completely useless, but luckily Spotlight and the Dock still work exactly as they always have and will continue to be my preferred way of launching applications.

Auto Save however is outright obnoxious. You can no longer Command-D to hit the “Don’t Save” button when you want to close a window discarding changes. [UPDATE: Can’t believe it took me half a year to figure out that Command-Backspace can be used instead as an alternative to the old Command-D.] That window doesn’t even respect NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode (i.e. clicking the disclosure triangle is not persistent). “Save as” is now a secondary menu option behind “Duplicate”. iWork and TextEdit now show a file browser upon launch instead of opening a blank document. Save as defaults to iCloud instead of the local hard drive. And there are probably dozens of other things.

Here are some useful defaults commands to make it slightly less painful, but you still can’t completely disable Auto Save. Luckily I spend most of my time in apps that don’t use Auto Save (e.g. Microsoft Office, TextWrangler, TextMate, TeXShop).

defaults write -g NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode -bool TRUE # always expand open/save dialog
defaults write -g NSDocumentSaveNewDocumentsToCloud -bool FALSE # save locally instead of to iCloud by default

Also, check “Ask to keep changes when closing document” in the General pane in System Preferences.

Hold-to-umlaut is annoying on a full-size keyboard. Luckily you can re-enable key repeat:

defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false # enable key-repeat

FileVault 2 is simple to enable, as secure as software-based full-disk encryption can be (according to several researchers) and has no noticeable performance hit. If you’re using it, you should enable deep sleep, otherwise the disk remains unlocked during sleep:

sudo pmset -a destroyfvkeyonstandby 1 hibernatemode 25

One thing that Apple could improve: after waking from deep sleep and entering your password at the EFI screen, that password should also be passed to the screensaver unlock screen (similar to how it’s passed to the loginwindow when booting). (this might be worth filing a bug report)

All of my favorite hidden Dock settings still work:

defaults write com.apple.Dock showhidden -bool YES # make hidden apps transparent
defaults write com.apple.dock no-glass -boolean YES # disable 3D dock
killall Dock

The one thing that doesn’t really work anymore is dragging widgets out of Dashboard after enabling developer mode:

defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode -bool YES # enable dashboard dev mode
killall Dock

If you uncheck “Show Dashboard as a space” in the Mission Control pane in System Preferences, you can actually drag out the widget, but more often than not, it will just vanish along the way and won’t reappear until you kill the Dock.

Messages: I find it slightly annoying that Messages lists every single phone number and email address in the Show Info screen for every buddy, even if they don’t have iMessage activated. In fact, it even shows them after you disable iMessage in Messages’ preferences. Also, I miss the new message popup in the top right corner of my screen. Now, the only indication of a message received while you were away from your computer is a small number badge on the messages icon and a notification in Notification Center (which you don’t see until you open Notification Center). In fact, it doesn’t even show the message window until you click the icon (which may actually be a bug).

Notification Center is a very nice Growl replacement. I mainly need it for Mail and iChat, so I didn’t even bother installing something like Bark to forward Growl messages to Notification Center.

Full Screen is useless on a multi-screen setup, but running apps in full screen is pointless anyway on all but the smallest screens. Spaces used to be a pretty neat feature to switch between multiple sets of apps. Unfortunately, the old spaces (which you could access using Ctrl plus a number key or Ctrl plus the arrow keys) are gone and the new spaces can only be used to switch between multiple full-screen apps.

Most of my complaints are a matter of getting used to. When upgrading to a new OS, you always gain some things and you lose some things The only major issue I have is Auto Save. As long as my everyday apps don’t support it, I’ll be happy. Once they do (in Microsoft Office 2015 perhaps), I’ll need to find some way to get around it or get used to it.

Everything else is a reasonable tradeoff for being on the most recent OS version again.

I do remember how much my Windows friends complained six years ago when Vista changed everything they were used to after a decade of Windows 95 thru Windows XP. Or how some of my Linux friends complain about how Gnome 3 is so much worse than Gnome 2.

5 thoughts on “Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Review

  1. Luis

    The only insight I can give is about your iMessages remaining on the screen. If you open System Preferences, then Notifications, find and select Messages on the list, and change the alert style from Banners to Alerts. The alerts stay on the screen until you dismiss them. Hope that helps.

  2. Michael Kuron Post author

    Thank you so much for this suggestion! That’s exactly what I needed. The Alerts even disappear when I switch to Messages. The only difference to Snow Leopard now is that I get one Alert per message from a person, not one Alert per person. But I think I actually like this new behavior better.

  3. WhatTheHeck

    I don’t know what you mean that spaces can only be used to switch between multiple full screen apps. You can click the “+” (plus) button from Mission Control and add another space and fill it with as many apps as you like and then add another screen if you want ad-nauseam and those screens exist (even with nothing in them) until you delete them (also from Mission Control). I see very little difference between Mission Control and Spaces except how you set them up and with the addition of automatic Expose on the screen you’re already on. You can also access Dashboard from Mission Control (that option can be turned off in preferences if desired). Mission Control is easy to access from either a hotspot or a 3-finger swipe or even a dock button. I do miss the top menu shortcut, however.

    I disagree that full screen is “pointless” for larger screens. There are some apps I’d want full screen (e.g. a movie playing in iTunes or Preview, for example that I’m watching for more than a few seconds as it gets it out of the way of other things going on without having to resize and/or shuffle windows around it. In other words, it’s a matter of convenience + no window borders (which I don’t want for videos). I also use full screen for VMWare (i.e. I want WindowsXP, Windows98, Windows7 and Linux on their own full screens, not shared with OSX apps).

    One thing that OSX needs badly and has for a LONG time are dock/menu options for multiple monitors. Windows has file/menu options on each window so it’s never an issue, but OSX puts it at the top of the screen, but does NOT do this for multiple monitors (the same holds true for the dock). There is NO reason for this short-coming. I should not have to move the pointer across multiple screens to get the menu or dock. There should be an option on each monitor. I’ve suggested this multiple times on Apple Feedback, but I don’t think they even READ feedback or we’d have a lot better options by now.

    Similarly, Finder could really use a dual-pane option for ease of transferring files without having to open up a second finder window. The Amiga had file manager programs for ages before OSX even existed that did this and it made things very easy. There is a 3rd party option for OSX, but it should be a simple window button on a finder Window to ease large file operations without opening more windows.

    Launchpad badly needs an organizational menu like iTunes offers for actual iOS devices. As it is, it’s mostly useless.

    There should be a simple preference pane option to enable/disable or control Deep Sleep mode, especially for Macs that are plugged in (i.e. I want deep sleep in battery mode on my notebook, but not while it’s docked since the power savings aren’t worth the extra long wake-up time. There are no GUI options to control it what-so-ever, though. You have to resort to the CLI/SHELL and that’s very unintuitive for a Mac (even Windows doesn’t normally make you resort to a command line to do things).

  4. Brent

    Well said, @WhatTheHeck.

    A keyboard shortcut can be used to jump to the Menu Bar. Still, a) the hands nee to be removed from the mouse to do this, and b) the mouse is now on the wrong screen after selecting the desired menu option.

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